Friday, September 30, 2016

Miki is back!

Miki is back!  He looks fine except for having about a bazillion burrs on him (especially on his ears) from a nasty weed around here called burdock.  I'm taking him to the groomer for an emergency trim very shortly.

How did we find him, you ask?  Well, I was backing my truck out of our driveway to go take posters to all the places in the county where someone might take a stray dog.  Suddenly two kids appeared behind me, waving like crazy.  When I hopped out to find out why, they told me they'd seen Miki – and they gave me a credible description of him.  They told me exactly where they saw him, and then they had to take off for school.  I started walking around the neighborhood anywhere and everywhere within a couple hundred yards of where they spotted him – I got there just ten minutes or so after they saw him, so I figured he couldn't have gone far.  After about 15 minutes of hollering my head off, there was no sign of him.

I went back inside our house to talk it over with Debbie – specifically, to consider whether it made more sense to keep looking for him locally (as we couldn't be certain that the kids' sighting was either credible or actually Miki), or to carry on with the poster distribution.  We decided to keep searching.  I opened the door into our garage to head out (the big garage door was already open) and ... there was Miki, right at the bottom of the steps into the garage.  I called him, incredulously, and he actually ran away a bit, frightened, but then recognized me and came inside.  Got him!  I figure he must have heard me calling, came toward the sound of my voice, but never started barking himself.  I was inside talking with Debbie for no more than 2 or 3 minutes, so he must have been right behind me.


The poor fellow is massively covered with burdock burrs, though.  The groomers are facing quite a challenge with him.  And now it's time for me to go.

Oh, happy day!

No Miki...

No Miki...  There has been no sign of our little dog.  We remain completely mystified by his disappearance.  It was very sad last night to fill just three bowls of kibble instead of four.  Even sadder to walk around our house this morning and not find him waiting...

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Our little household is very somber tonight...

Our little household is very somber tonight...  Miki, our 10 year old field spaniel, has gone missing.  He was in our fenced back yard this morning, with our three other dogs – but when we went to round up the dogs at about 11 am, he was gone.  We've searched the neighborhood, notified all our neighbors, put up a notice at the Paradise post office, hollered until we're hoarse, notified the local vets, humane society, and animal control.  No sign of him at all, at least not yet.

We're completely baffled by this.  Of all our dogs, he's the least likely one to even try to get out of the yard.  Race, our border collie, would be the likely suspect for that.  Miki is old and lazy; taking a nap in the sun is more his style.  The ground is soft and muddy right now, so I looked at the entire fence perimeter trying to find the place where he escaped.  Nothing.  There's no sign at all of where or how he got out.  Furthermore, even if he did get out, he most likely behavior he'd exhibit is to run to the front door and bark.  We also can't imagine that someone came and took him – with three other younger, prettier dogs right there with him.  Not to mention that all four dogs would have raised quite a stink should someone ever have tried that!

So we're stuck here without being able to understand what happened, how it happened, or where on earth poor Miki might be.  All we can hope for is that he's safe somewhere, and eventually someone contacts us about him...

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Paradise ponders...

Paradise ponders...  Busy, I've been.  Sorry for missing a day posting and worrying some of you.  Sheesh!

On Monday a giant dumpster was delivered to our house, per my request.  This beast holds 30 cubic yards of stuff headed for the dump, and I ordered it up so that I could clean up piles of crap that have accumulated ever since we first bought the house up here.  There's cardboard, old pallets, a couple cubic yards of foam packing material, stuff left by the previous owner that we didn't want and couldn't give away (carpet remnants, drapes, and all sorts of other things), and more things than I care to list.  Much of my time since Monday morning was spent loading junk into my ATV trailer, then unloading the trailer into the dumpster.  I'm nearly done now, and I'm feeling it in every muscle (even my earlobes are tired!).  All that remains is a 200 lb container of salt (from the old water softener I replaced two years ago) and some fencing remnants (more on that below).  There's a Mormon horde scheduled to appear here on Saturday to help me get that salt container out of the basement and into the dumpster.  On Monday, the dumpster will be gone, and our premises considerably neater!

The fence I mentioned above was a five strand barbed wire fence stretching for 600' along the west side of our property.  A local lad named Jacob H., a mere 14 years old, volunteered to take it down for me at the rate of $7.50 an hour.  He'd work after school.  I figured it would take him four or five days, 3 or 4 hours a day, so worst case $150 or so.  I'd happily pay that to avoid the nasty work of tearing a fence down!  So yesterday evening he started ... and finished, an hour and a half later.  I didn't watch him, but he must have worked like a demon possessed – he took out dozens of T-posts, clipped the barbed wire, rolled it up, and piled up the T-posts – all in 90 minutes!  I paid him $20 (which got a big smile) ... and now I'm going to use him anywhere I could use physical help.  This afternoon he's going to come back and help me load all that junk on my tractor and haul it the quarter mile or so to the dumpster.  Another $20 and I won't have to jump on and off the tractor a few dozen times.  Deal!

I had a long conversation with Kevin, the fellow up in Montana who is making our custom fireplace door.  It was such a pleasure to talk with a craftsman like that!  He had some questions about how to make it, all great ones, and promised me a drawing with measurements I could check.  I got the drawing last night, and this morning I checked it all out – it was spot on.  He's starting the fabrication today, and we should have it in our hands within a couple of weeks.  Assuming we like the result (and we're certainly expecting to!), we will be using him for some other custom metalwork we'd like to have done.  It's a good resource to have!

Monday was a day for Debbie and I to celebrate – we got two pieces of good news on the same day.  The first good news was that her latest lab work showed her sodium and calcium levels both down (through diet and drugs) to levels that mean she can safely take the drug her endocrinologist wants her to take: Forteo.  We've been waiting almost two months for her sodium and calcium levels to get down there, working out a diet and adjusting drug dosages along the way.  Big step!  Forteo is a very expensive drug, though: about $2,500 per month for the daily self-administered injections.  Our insurance company denied coverage for it, wanting Debbie to take a different drug (much lower cost) for two years first, then only if that failed would they cover the Forteo.  Her endocrinologist was certain the other drug would fail, given Debbie's condition, so she appealed the insurance company's denial.  The second piece of good news on Monday was that the insurance company's review board agreed with her endocrinologist, so now she's approved for Forteo!  As I was writing this paragraph, the first month's worth of Forteo showed up by courier.  Tomorrow we travel to Salt Lake City, to the endocrinologist's office, where they will train Debbie on how to administer the drug.  This is the first step to getting her bone density back up, and a big milestone for her.  Hooray!

Monday, September 26, 2016

More memories...

More memories ... from my mom's collection of photos...

This young lady is Sharon Ann Reis, according to the inscription on the back in neat printing that I don't recognize.  The entire inscription: “Sharon Ann Reis Oct 1988 (12 years old)”.  I'll make the assumption that she is the daughter of my dad's Army buddy, Donald Reis.  We called him “Uncle Donald” even though he was not  related to us, and we had two actual Uncle Donalds already!  Of the three Uncle Donalds, he was my favorite.  I'd long thought that he'd been stationed with my dad for his tour of duty in Europe during WWII, but a few years ago I found out (by talking with Uncle Donald) that that was not the case.  They'd known each other during Army schooling, served separately after school, then got together again after they mustered out.  Uncle Donald is the one who first told me that my dad likely left a trail of my half-brothers and half-sisters as a result of his carousing in Italy – assuming one could believe the stories my dad told Uncle Donald.  I have since heard from a cousin that he'd heard similar stories about my dad from his father (my dad's oldest brother).

 The lab dates this in February 1959.  That's my brother Scott, imprisoned in a wire cage.  That cage was likely intended to protect a bush inside from marauding deer, but it serves well to protect the world from my brother, too! :)  The bags to the left of him in the photo are oak leaf mold bags, the burlap bags we used before my dad was able to get plastic bags.  To the right of him in the photo, a bit hard to make out, is a pile of oak leaf mold.  This tells me that the photo was taken in our old shed, on the far northern side of its floor, where we always had Pete unload his truckloads of leaf mold.  The concrete floor looks right, too.

This is me and my lovely bride Debbie, and the date would have been August 16, 1981.  We don't look quite the same any more; 35 years have changed us just a tad. :)  My mom had this photo mixed in with a large pile of photos of shrubs in a field.  There's probably a message there, but it's too cryptic for me to figure out!

Below are four photos of me.  The first one is undated, says “Tom” on the back in my mom's handwriting, and looks like a school photo.  The second one is dated by the lab as September 1957, and in my mom's handwriting on the back says “Tommy”.  I'd have been just five.  I've no idea where that was.  That Dixie cup would have been one of the old-fashioned kind made of waxed paper; don't see them any more!  The third photo is undated, part of a series that looks like we had a picnic on the Maine coastline. The last photo is obviously a school portrait, and on the back says in my mom's handwriting: “1964 Tommy Handsome!”.  The latter is not an assessment I ever hear any more! :)

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Paradise ponders...

Paradise ponders...  We had quite the rainstorm yesterday: a steady gentle rain most of the time, interspersed with downpours.  For the storm total, we're at 2.5", and it looks like that's the end of it.  The skies here are slowly clearing.  But ... now the forecast shows a good chance of rain a week from now!  :)

We've been having a rash of urinary tract infections in our cats – six or seven of them so far this year.  The first symptoms we notice is that there's an ammonia smell, and the cat's urine doesn't clump in the litter box.  Up until now we've been lucky in that we've been able to figure out which cat it is.  This time, though, we've got a challenge: one of the cats in our cattery (with 9 cats) has a UTI, and we don't know which one.  How can we identify which cat it is?  but when I started poking into the notion of a webcam, things started to look challenging: they need power, big storage, etc.  Then I had a brainstorm: use a trail camera!  These things are made in high volumes and are therefore quite inexpensive.  They're battery powered, as they're designed to be strapped to a tree.  Motion triggers them to either take a short video or a single snapshot.  They use infrared to take photos even in the dark.  So I ordered one, and this morning I set it up, aimed at the offending litter box (photo at right).  Probably that will trigger the cat to move to a new litter box! :)  It will be interesting to see whether this works.  Even if it doesn't, I'm going to set this up outside to see if I can get photos of deer and elk in our yard at night.

Well, we noted that the non-clumping litter is generally only appearing in one of our litter boxes.  Since cats are creatures of habit, and usually use the same litter box, that makes sense.  So Debbie had the idea of setting up a webcam that recorded, and we could watch the video to see which cat it was.

Yesterday we did lots of running around for various chores, and I didn't get a whole lot done.  I did, however, have a chance to start a conversation with an old Navy buddy of mine (Mike B.) over a project both of us would enjoy having: a programmable box joint jig.  If you're a woodworker, this will make sense to you, otherwise you can skip the rest of this post. :)  A box joint (also called a “finger joint”) is made by cutting "fingers" in the ends of two pieces of wood such that the fingers interleave perfectly with each other.  There are lots of ways to do this, but in all cases the cutting must be done very precisely, or else the fingers won't fit together correctly.  One way to do this (and perhaps the most common method) is to use a table saw, making repeated passes on the work piece to cut out the space between the fingers.  You can buy “jigs” designed to make this easier, but it's still quite a bit of work – error-prone work! – to get them cut right.

As if that weren't enough challenge, things get even more interesting if you want to make something with more than four sides.  For instance, if you want to make an octagonal serving tray with sides a few inches high, then those fingers have to be cut at an angle of 45° to the end (instead of the usual 90°).  Even more challenging is if you want something that has slanted sides.  For instance, suppose you want to make a hexagonal trash can, with 6" sides at the bottom, and 8" sides at the top.  That's quite challenging, as you need a compound angle. Then there's the question of the finger width.  Conventionally the fingers are all the same width, as that's the easiest way to do the work.  But aesthetically it would be interesting to be able to vary the finger width.

Mike saw a programmable box joint jig online, and that inspired us to come up with a much more capable version.  Mike and I have started a little collaboration for this gadget, which we're calling “BoxZilla”.  It will be able to do the simple 90° joints, but also the more complex joints as well.  It will be completely controlled by a Raspberry Pi computer, a little $35 wonder that's millions of times more powerful than the computers I started building in the '70s.  Mike is going to do the mechanical and electronic design and construction, and I'm going to do the software.  This will be a very fun project for both of us, and best of all both of us will hugely enjoy using the thing when we get done.  Mike is considering selling them, too.  We're just getting started on it now. I'll post about our progress from time-to-time...

Friday, September 23, 2016

Salesforce to bid on Twitter?

Salesforce to bid on Twitter?  That's like Ace Hardware bidding on Chipotles!  What the hell are they thinking!

You just can't make this stuff up...

Product endorsement...

Product endorsement...  Most burglars won't enter a home that they believe is occupied.  Of course there are exceptions, but the vast majority of burglars would rather avoid the risks associated with breaking in and entering an occupied home.  That's the reason people buy those gadgets to turn lights on and off at random: it makes a potential burglar think someone must be at home.  The trouble with the light switching gadgets is that real people don't actually turn lights on and off at random – and they actually don't turn them on and off very often, either.  What real people do do, though, is watch TV.  Lots and lots of TV.

Now we don't have a burglary problem around here – house burglaries are very rare, and most people here don't even bother locking their doors.  I suspect that's partly because any burglars would know that everyone here is armed to the teeth, and also of a mindset that says one less burglar in the world makes for a better world. :)  It's probably also partly because everyone here watches out for each other, and because there aren't a lot of people with interesting possessions to burgle.  So we generally don't worry about it at all.

But I saw this gadget for sale and thought it was so clever that I just had to see how well it actually worked.  It's a small device, about two inches square, that contains an array of multi-colored LEDs.  Starting at dusk and continuing for a settable amount of time, it blinks the LEDs to simulate what it looks like when someone is watching TV.  I've got mine aimed at the ceiling in our second floor TV room, and when I'm outside after dark it really does look just like someone is watching TV there.  If you drive down any street at night, you'll see lots of windows that look just like this.  The simulation is good enough that even with careful inspection I couldn't tell it was fake.  The price is quite low, and the power consumption is also quite low – this would cost only a few pennies per night to operate.  I'd be willing to bet that it's effective at deterring the type of burglar – the most common type – that will avoid entering a home that appears to be occupied.

Well done, whoever dreamed this up.  Very clever!

Paradise ponders...

Paradise ponders...  This Wednesday afternoon I had the opportunity to lend a hand to one of our neighbors, Nick and Maria S.  Normally these folks are quite self-sufficient: they have six kids, the oldest of whom are adults still living at home.  That's enough muscle-power to handle just about any job, but this week they got one that was beyond them. :)  They took delivery of twelve bales of hay, but not the old-fashioned bales that weigh 60 to 70 pounds – they got the medium-sized 800 to 1,000 pound bales.  The truck that delivered them had no fork lift or tractor, so the family got themselves all together and pushed the bales off his truck.  That made a random pile of bales scattered about their yard.  Maria called to ask if I could come over with my tractor and pile them up neatly, so they could cover them before the rains hit.  So I ran over and did that, which turned out to be more challenging than you might think, as there was little room to maneuver between the bales.  I ended up moving most of the bales off to one side, just to make some space – then I stared piling them up in a neat stack.  After I finished with that, the whole family went to work putting up a tarp to cover them, anticipating the rain storm in the forecast.  It felt good to help these good neighbors out, even if it was such a little thing...

Speaking of the rain, we've been getting quite a rainstorm the past couple of days.  The current radar picture is at right, and for the moment the storm is in decline.  The forecast says we should expect heavy rain tonight, though.  It looks like the storm total will be close to 3", and that means it's a goopy mess outside right now: mud season has arrived!  With all the construction work around our house, the grass is gone from large swaths of our yard – it's been replaced by a gluey mud after the rain.  That means we have to be very careful exactly where we walk the dogs, because the field spaniels with their hairy paws will pick up several pounds of mud apiece.  We try to stick to pavement or wet grass; that way we just bring in water. :)

Yesterday morning I finished cleaning up the mess in Debbie's office, and Michelle (our friend and cleaning lady) made it all beautiful.  The photo at right is what it looks like if you walk in.  Also in there is a 24 port Cisco switch, a MikroTek router, a cable modem, and a Chamberlain modem for the garage doors – not to mention a bazillion power cords, network wires, audio cables, etc., etc.  All of that stuff is mounted up under the table at left in the photo, on the left side of the desk, and behind the desk.  If you get down on the floor you can see all this stuff, as in the photos below.  The nice part of all this from my point of view is that with very little effort I can see all the lights (especially on the cable modem, which is the most frequent source of problems) and get to all the cables.  Win!

Yesterday afternoon we had a nice lunch at Angie's (their pot roast special – delicious!), to Aggie's for a nice ice cream cone (also delicious!), and then out for a drive up to Hardware Ranch with Miki and Race along for the ride.  The fall color on the drive up to Hardware Ranch was just gorgeous – the oranges of oaks and the reds of maples were all around us, and the yellow of box elders and quaking aspen were starting to appear as well.  We have friends coming in for a visit on Sunday; I'm hoping the color is still good for them to enjoy.  We didn't see much wildlife, especially not birds, in the rain – but Debbie got a good view of a northern Harrier, and we both got to watch a meadowlark she spotted sitting in a bush just six feet or so from the truck.  We also saw two groups of deer, and a gorgeous rainbow (it was raining lightly on most of the trip).  Some photos from the trip below:

Thursday, September 22, 2016

A couple of product endorsements...

A couple of product endorsements... 

The first one is for dog owners.  We have four pooches ourselves, two of whom are six-month-old puppies.  All four are prodigious producers of poop – most especially the two puppies.  For years we've been cleaning our yard with the standard equipment: a tiny little lawn rake and a big scoop.  I've always hated those things – they don't work very well at all. The rake usually either doesn't budge the poop (especially if it's a steaming freshie), or it shoots the poop onto your pant leg or into the neighbor's yard.  Horrible design, just slightly better than using your bare fingers.  In doing some research on Amazon into alternatives, I came across the Nature's Miracle Jaw Scoop, pictured at right.  I chose this photo because it shows the working end – a simple-looking toothy set of jaws.  The thing works incredibly well.  To compare it to the old-fashioned rake is like comparing a SpaceX rocket to a dime-store Roman Candle.  But here's the thing: even though it's quite obvious how the mechanism is put together and how it moves, I cannot come up with a rational explanation for how well it works.  I've concluded, therefore, that this product is the result of a collaboration between Gandalf, Thorin, and Elrond – it must be deeply infused with magic to work as well as it does.  There's no skill required of the operator: you just pull the handle to open the jaws of pooply death, drop it over the offending turd pile, let go of the handle, and lift up.  The turd pile is removed, everything else remains.  It's truly a wonderful thing.  If you own a dog and you don't already have one of these, order it now.  You can thank me later.  Even if you don't own a dog, you might want one of these so you can marvel at its functional perfection!

Then there's this little gem: the Peeps Eyeglasses Cleaner.  This doesn't require any magic to work; it's obvious how it works once you use it.  It comes in a little case that's easy to carry, it includes a little brush for getting dust off, but the really good part is what you see in the photo: two small carbon-fiber pads that squeeze against both sides of your lens at the same time.  You simply swipe these around a bit, and every trace of dirt and oil is gone from your glasses, presto!  I had high hopes for its utility just on examining the advertisement; the reality is even better than that.  This is the first thing I've found that does a flawless job of cleaning lenses in nearly 60 years of wearing glasses.  If you are a glasses wearer and care at all about clean lenses (I know some people really don't care, but I sure do!), then just go get one of these.  You'll love 'em!

More memories...

More memories ... from my mom's photo collection.  All of these photos are modern copies of older photos, and I do not have the originals.  None of them are dated by the lab.

There are no notes on this photo to help me out.  The woman at the far left is my mom's sister (my aunt) Betty.  The child in front of her, back to the camera, looks like Scott to me, but that's a guess.  The woman at the far right, facing the camera, might be my mom, but I'm not sure.  I recognize the house: that's my aunt Betty's home when I was small.  I don't recognize anyone else in the photo.  Maybe some of my relatives can help with this one.

This one is labeled “Don” on the back, in my mom's handwriting.  He's got a book open in front of him, but it appears to be a studio shot – perhaps a slightly more creative than usual school photo?  None of my relatives had a clue how to set up lighting for portraits, so I know this couldn't possibly have been taken by them. :)  He looks to be about 14 or 15 to me, and he was born (I think) in 1937, so this would place the photo in '41 or '42 – wartime for the U.S.

On the back, in my mom's handwriting: “Bonnie”.  I wouldn't have recognized this as my mom's younger sister (my aunt) Bonnie.  I believe Bonnie was born in '39, and she looks to be about 3 or 4 in this photo, which would date it to '42 or '43 – wartime for the U.S.  I don't recognize the door or steps she's sitting on.

Finally, here's my aunt Bonnie again.  This is definitely a studio shot, and on the back in my mom's handwriting: “Bonnie - senior”  I presume that means high school senior, which (if she was 17) would place this in '56.  She appears here about like my earliest memories of her, so that hangs together.  On her hairline, above her right eye (on the left in the photo) there's a white spot that I suspect is a photo artifact.  I don't remember her having a scar or birthmark like that. 

Paradise ponders...

Paradise ponders...  Yesterday was a day of progress on several fronts.  It was also a great way to make me tired. :)  Especially since I had only slept for a few hours the night before!

Our builder's crew showed up and finished “skinning” the roof of our new mud room.  After that, our roofer showed up and installed the waterproof underlayment (that goes under the steel, which he says he'll have up early next week).  Some photos:

The door cutout isn't the right size yet.  The door going in there is a normal sized door (36" wide), but it will have a glassed arch over the top of it, and sidelights on each side.  The hole you see in the second photo will actually be wider (to accommodate the sidelights); the overall hole may be shorter (once we get the door and see how high the arch turned out to be).  The three doors we bought for the three different parts of our construction project all turned out to be custom doors, so we can't just look up the dimensions in a catalog.

Then in the afternoon, we had an occurrence that absolutely stunned us: the fellow who was supposed to start working on our yard (sprinklers, sod, etc.) a little over a month ago finally showed up!  He worked until 9 pm and got the grading done for where our deck is going (photo at right), and also installed some temporary pipe to get the water from our downspouts away from the house. 

There was a bit of urgency about the downspouts because we have 3" of rain in the forecast for the next few days.  That's also what motivated the builder and roofer to show up today.  After the builders got done, I ran and got some plastic to staple up over the rough cutouts for the door and windows in the mud room.  And it poured last night!  There's a small leak somewhere in the mud room, but it's basically dry - no harm done.  The sun room is completely dry.  This storm was its first real test, and it passed with flying colors.  Yay!

In between working with all the contractors and putting up plastic, I also managed to finish working on the wiring in Debbie's office.  You'd never know all that equipment and cabling was there!  I didn't take photos yet because I haven't cleaned up (that's on this morning's agenda).  I'll take a couple photos when that's finished.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Paradise ponders...

Paradise ponders...  It was a busy day at the compound here yesterday!  So much so that I never did sit down at my computer – missed a day of blogging.

In the morning, and in between other projects, I worked on Debbie's office.  Her beautiful new office furniture really shouldn't be festooned with electronic infrastructure gear (router, switch, etc.) and a bazillion cables.  So I'm in the process of mounting all that gear up underneath her furniture, out of sight altogether.  Only the gear she actually needs to touch and see will be visible on her desk, and nearly all the cables will be hidden from view.  I'm about halfway done with that now.  The challenging mechanical part of that project was mounting the gear, and I've finished that.  I did it by fabricating brackets out of aluminum bar stock, and screwing them into the bottom of the slabs that make her table and desk top.  It worked great!

Around noon a truck pulled up on the highway – our new kennel had arrived!  This is a really nicely made kennel, Lucky Dog brand, that went on sale at Tractor Supply Company last week.  I ordered two 10' by 10' kennels.  We've got one of these kennels (a much smaller model!) in our cattery, so I was already familiar with how they worked.  It's basically a bunch of 5' wide panels, each made of welded steel tubing and then powder-coated.  There is a simple pair of clamp connectors between adjacent panels – and here's the part I was counting on: you can adjust those to any angle you want.  So the two kennels I ordered had a total of 16 5' wide panels.  I arranged them as a 16-sided polygon, which provides roughly 500 square feet of enclosed area for the puppies to play in.  That arrangement is way better than the 200 square feet those kennels would nominally enclose!  The shipment weighed 660 pounds, well within the capability of my little Kubota tractor.  So I just forked it off the tractor-trailer, hauled it into our yard, set it down, and went to work setting it up.  It took me about three hours all together, and I didn't need any help.  Not bad at all!  The puppies are cavorting inside of it as I write this.  :)

Also yesterday, our builder showed up and started framing the mud room roof (photos as of last night below).  They're already here this morning to finish the job, and our roofer should be here later to put waterproofing on the top (the standing seam steel will come later).  I'm going to staple some clear plastic up on the window and door holes this afternoon – there's 2.5" of rain in our forecast, starting this evening and continuing through Saturday.  If I don't button that up a bit, we're going to have a swimming pool in there!  Last night I could begin to see, for the first time, how the mud room will change the appearance of our house...

Monday, September 19, 2016

More memories...

More memories ... from my mom's photo collection.  All of these photos are modern copies of older photos, and I do not have the originals.  None of them are dated by the lab.

On the back, in my mom's handwriting: “Don MacLaughlin front right”.  That would be her brother (my uncle) Donnie.  They're wearing some formal clothing that I don't recognize, all with sashes and bow ties, and a scarf of sorts around their necks that has different initials for different people.  The fellow at the lower left is holding a stick with ribbons on it.  I've no idea what sort of an organization requires this kind of odd dress.  Whatever it was, my uncle was apparently part of it!

My mom wrote “Don & Elinor” on the back of this one.  She's on the left, my uncle Donnie on the right.  There's a building in the background that looks curved, perhaps a water tank or the base of a water tower.  I don't recognize the location.  My mom appears to be about 6 or 7, placing this in '41 or '42.  I'm guessing summer of '41, just prior to the U.S. entry into WWII.  They look quite happy and carefree in this photo.

This one says “Aunt Mattie & Bonnie” on the back in my mom's handwriting.  I don't recognize the location.  That's her sister (my aunt) Bonnie (the kid), and the mysterious Aunt Mattie who I haven't been able to actually identify.  Again in this photo Bonnie's head looks too big for her body.  At that time, and when I was young as well, it was common and normal for little prepubescent girls to run around topless as Bonnie is here.  It's much less common today (in the U.S.).  We're getting even more prudish, to the amusement of basically the entire rest of the world. :)

This one was taken in the dining room of our home in Robbinsville.  On the back, in my mom's handwriting: “First Thanksgiving in Elinor + Tom’s new home 1953”.  I'd have been a year old, but I'm not in the photo.  Left-to-right: my dad (looking incredibly young and sporting the mustache I don't remember), my aunt Bonnie, my maternal grandmother Mable, and my maternal grandfather Donald MacLaughlin.  You can see a plate on the east wall; I remember that plate.  A hutch filled that location later, with many plates and teapots on it.  The arched doorway behind my grandfather led to our living room.  My dad was 29 years old in that photo, and had already been a soldier, a chicken farmer, and now a nurseryman.  He'd helped build a house (the one he's sitting in!), obtained a mortgage, learned to type 70 wpm, and had traveled all over northern Africa and southern Europe.  That winter he would buy a WWII surplus jeep, brand new, packed in barrels of cosmoline.  Over the next couple of winters he assembled it, got it running, and he kept it for about four more years.  I have a few memories of riding with him in that canvas-topped thing, one in particular in the mountains of West Virginia when I was four or five years old...

Paradise ponders...

Paradise ponders...  This past Saturday I was planning to take apart Debbie's new desk (just arrived in a shipment), so that we could easily move it upstairs.  This is what we did to the larger desk that we'd purchased from the same vendor.  But curses, I was foiled again!  For some reason the vendor decided to glue this desk together, along with the same sort of screws he'd used before.  Of course I didn't figure this out until after I removed eight screws, and after I had to run to Home Depot to get a flexible shaft so that I could fit my electric screwdriver into the incredibly tight space.  Dang it!

So yesterday I put all the screws back in, and then my brother Scott came down to help me move all this stuff.  He and I moved the larger desk (in pieces) up to my office on the second story of our barn, and then we moved Debbie's desk (in a single piece) to her second floor office in the house.  That desk weighs 270 pounds (it's built out of solid black locust logs).  We used a complicated set of methods to move it.  First, we strapped it to a hand truck, padding it with a blanket and cardboard to prevent damage to the top (a 4" thick slab of black locust).  Then we rolled it out of the barn, where I had unpacked it from its shipping pallet.  After that, we skidded it carefully onto my tractor's forklift, and (very slowly) moved it over to our front door, and through it onto the floor of our still-under-construction mud room.  There we strapped it back to the hand truck, brought it into the front door, and wiggled it over to directly in front of the stairs to the second floor.  Now came the really, really hard part.  I got above the desk, on the stairs, and pulled on the hand truck's handles.  Scott got below the desk, and lifted up.  With a bit of coordination, a lot of straining, and much groaning and moaning, we managed to lift that up one stair at a time.  We rested between stairs.  Fourteen times we did that, and finally got it up onto the second floor.  Then we had one last challenge: the desk's smallest dimension was 30.5", and the doorway into Debbie's office was 29.5" wide after we removed the door.  The desk is made with a slab of black locust being held up by two pedestals containing drawers.  Between them is a 28" clear space.  So we laid the desk on its back side, on a piece of cardboard on the floor.  Then we skidded one pedestal through the door, rotating as we went, and then skidded the other pedestal through the door.  With this technique we had about 3" of clearance – made it!  And now the desk is standing in Debbie's office, undamaged.  Scott and I sustained all the damage that occurred during the effort! :)

Last night Debbie and I traveled down to Ogden with Cabo and Mako for their first puppy class.  It went well, and they really enjoyed meeting all the other puppies (all border collies!).  We're going to take just one puppy in the future, though – probably just Cabo.  Mako was very distracted by Cabo's barking when she was on the sidelines. 

After the class, we stopped at Freddy's for a chocolate milk shake.  They were busy, and the service was slow.  I gave my order and just hung around, looking at the posters in the lobby.  I wasn't antsy at all, but after around five minutes of waiting, a middle-aged gentleman came out and introduced himself to me as the manager.  Then he told me he'd noticed how long I'd been waiting, and asked me if I was a veteran.  The chain was started by WWII veterans, and prominently displays its origins, so I wasn't completely surprised by the question.  When I answered in the affirmative, the manager said: “Then we owe you a meal - anything you want - on the house!” He said further that at Freddy's, they disliked making veterans wait.  Now that was a surprise!  But unfortunately I wasn't actually hungry, and told him so.  He then suggested that I get some “chicken tenders”, as they weren't that large.  Ok, said I, and wandered back out to the truck with the shakes we wanted, and a meal I didn't.  I'd never had chicken tenders before, so I had no idea want to expect.  The bag he gave me had five of them in it, each about the size and shape of a medium-sized pickle.  They were pleasantly breaded chunks of chicken, deep-fried (I think), and actually pretty darned good.  They came with some barbecue sauce I didn't even try; the chicken was tasty all on its own.

I slept reasonably well last night, I think because of the desk-related exertions :)

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Paradise ponders...

Paradise ponders...  I managed to take the puppies for a two-mile walk yesterday.  We didn't see anything particularly exciting.  The air was a bit hazy; water vapor as the bright sunshine evaporated water from the fields wet by our rain a couple days ago.  That rain brought out some flowers alongside the road:

In the late afternoon we headed for Murray, Utah, just south of Salt Lake City.  We were first going to take a look at a car, then heading for dinner with some of Debbie's dog agility friends.

Debbie's truck is seven years old now, and it's about time for her to get something new.  She's been looking closely at the Toyota 4Runner, which has grown in size over the years and is now about the same size as the LandCruiser we had many years ago.  She's looking for an SUV with excellent safety characteristics, high clearance (for rough roads), good towing capacity, and the look she wants (something like the older LandCruisers that didn't look like a car).  The 4Runner fits the bill quite nicely.  But ... I discovered that Lexus makes an SUV that's basically an upgraded 4Runner.  What I particularly liked were some good safety and driver convenience features.  Debbie liked the descriptions of the interior (can you say “heated leather seats?”), but wasn't sure she liked the appearance. The closest Lexus dealer is near Salt Lake City, so we decided to take a look before dinner.  The short version of the result: Debbie loved it.  :)  I think we may be getting one.

After the adventure at the car dealer, we headed to Red Iguana, where we met up with seven fellow dog people – eight women and me. :)  The dinner did not disappoint, of course.  I had one of the specials, a dish they called chili relleno nogales.  I call it heavenly; there's a photo of it at right.  The chili (done perfectly, of course) tasted like an Anaheim chili, but I've never seen an Anaheim chili that big.  It was lightly breaded in egg batter, like a chili relleno should be.  The stuffing was complex.  I could pick out the tastes of cheese, mushrooms, and raisins – but the spices I couldn't reverse-engineer.  There were pomegranate seeds sprinkled on the top.  Black beans and rice accompanied it.  Despite the size of that thing, I still had room for dessert: flan and Mexican hot chocolate, both wonderful.  Debbie seemed just as pleased with her selection, though after tasting my chili relleno she thought maybe she'd made the wrong choice.  I'll note, though, that none of her dinner remained by the time we left :)  We went home with very happy tummies.  It was nice to see all the dog people, too.  We did get to talk some, but the restaurant was so loud that it was challenging to have even a short, simple conversation.  No matter; just being with each other, surrounded by smiles and happy faces was more than enough.

It was a very nice day...

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Sudden-onset social life!

Sudden-onset social life!  A convention and a dog show have brought a number of our friends into Salt Lake City the past few days.  Last Saturday we had a very nice visit from four of our fellow dog lovers.  Yesterday we met another dog agility competitor and her husband down in Ogden for a great dinner at the Union Grill (where the most memorable thing was the caramel bread pudding for dessert).  This evening we're going to the Red Iguana with a group of six fellow dog people – and they're buying our dinner!

This suddenly active social life is quite overwhelming us!

More memories...

More memories ... from my mom's photo collection...

This one says “Holly” on the back, in my mom's handwriting.  It's dated (by the lab) December 1955, when she'd have been about eight months old.  It's taken in our living room, and Synda is rolling around behind her.  The fireplace doesn't have its mantle installed yet, but the nook to the left of the fireplace does have the shelves installed (where eventually there were 300 or so books that I plowed through).  The American flag was my mom's touch – she was always more demonstrative in her patriotism than my dad was.  His Great Depression memories, wartime experiences, and the craziness of the early Cold War made him much less certain of his faith in America (this I know from many conversations with him).  The arched entranceway to our dining room is visible on the right, and to the right of that archway is the old vacuum tube record player we had – monaural and awful, with a needle arm that weighed about a pound. :)  But we sure played a lot of music on there!  At the left you can make out that ancient black-and-white TV, also vacuum tube (and awful).

I believe this is my brother Scott, in a photo dated (by the lab) January 1958.  It's probably from Christmas 1957; Scott would have been four.  In the background is my paternal grandfather, Earle Dilatush, looking just as most of my memories of him before his awful automobile accident.  He nearly always had a happy, smiling visage, just like shown here.  He also dressed more formally (before his accident) than anyone else I knew at the time.  The photo was taken in our living room, looking to the east toward our little-used front door.  The holly table is visible to the right of Scott, and a coffee table I remember for being ugly (to me; I've never liked those modern designs) just to his left.  Scott is wearing a wrist watch, which seems a little odd to me now.  Did we really have watches at that age?

Here's my sister Holly in a photo dated (by the lab) February 1960.  She'd have been almost 5 at that point.  She's standing in the field to the east of our house, and the camera is looking north-northeast.  You can see the utility poles along US 130 in the background, and toward the left you can see a big house.  That's the home my ancestors built (legend has it) with a crew of Italian craftsmen brought over for that purpose.  It was three stories high with an unfinished basement.  Until about 1960, my uncle Donald (my dad's brother), my aunt Marion, and my cousin (adopted) Jonathan lived there.  When my parents were first married they rented the third floor from uncle Donald as an apartment, and I lived there with them for a year or so while our house was being built.  The house was eventually condemned by the County, mainly because the plumbing was all done with lead pipes.  After it was condemned, my dad, uncle Donald, my brother Scott, my cousin Jonathan, and I tore the thing down with nothing other than hand tools.  My paternal grandfather spent many days straightening the nails we pulled out, ending up with three old-fashioned wooden barrels of them.  The house was built in the last 1700s, we were told, and it was full of very old-fashioned materials and construction techniques.  The roof was 3/4" thick slate shingles, and those my father managed to sell at some profit.  The window screens were solid copper: horizontal, angled slats held together with twisted copper wire verticals.  Those screens would be worth a small fortune today!  The nails were all cut wrought iron: cut from iron sheets, then heated and hammered to make a nail head.  Practically the entire framing of the house was made of hardwood (mostly oak and maple), rough cut in a sawmill on premises, and shimmed to fit (apparently precision measurement was not a thing back then!).  There were two gorgeous staircases, with hand-carved newel posts and railings.  One flight of these was pulled out and installed as the basement stairs to our house, replacing a crude set my dad had built.  Getting that flight into our house was quite an affair!  Scott and I did quite a bit of grunt work on this project, and we crawled all over the entire house like monkeys to do it.  When I think back on what we were doing, it seems like a small miracle (or curse, some would say :) that we didn't get hurt or killed in the process.  I remember pulling slate shingles off the roof – three stories up, no safety rope, no roof jacks – just a kid in sneakers standing on a mossy, slippery slate roof trying like hell to pry the nails out of the fragile slate without damaging it.  I also remember how dirty and dusty the job was, especially when we were peeling off the lathe-and-plaster walls, and pulling out the rat-infested cotton batting insulation.  For better or for worse, we survived all that – and the house was reduced to an empty foundation.

I like this undated photo.  I'm guessing (from the pines and the fence) that it was taken in Maine.  The adult is my dad, and left-to-right the kids are my brother Scott, my sister Holly, and me.  From our apparent ages I'm guessing this was taken in the summer of '57, when I'd have been almost five.  I have lots of memories of my dad when he looked like that, still a fairly young man (he'd have been 33).  We had some wonderful experiences hiking with my dad, the three of us.  My brother Mark was born so much later that our shared experiences were few and far between.  The three of us were close enough in age that we could do many things – like hiking – together.

Here's another nice one with my dad, dated (by the lab) December 1955.  Left-to-right it's me, my dad, and my brother Scott.  The photo was taken in our living room, looking toward the southwest.  The room isn't decorated and he's sitting right about where the Christmas tree would be, so this must have been taken at least a few weeks before Christmas.  He's wearing a long-sleeved shirt with a knit vest, his customary winter in-the-house attire.  The big picture window doesn't yet have its “picture frame” surround.  The chair in the corner was one that I spent quite a bit of time in, though usually it was in the southeast corner of the living room, not the southwest.  Time spent there was punishment time for minor infractions that didn't warrant a spanking.  My parents were fairly conventional (for the times) in their punishments, except for washing our mouths out with soap (if we said bad things - only much later did we discover that our parents had extensive profanity vocabularies) and eating raw onions (usually prescribed if we didn't eat our food).  To this day I still get nauseous at the mere thought of eating a raw onion.  I think those affected me more profoundly than either Scott or Holly.

Finally there's this photo of me.  It's dated (by the lab) December 1959, but surely it was taken much earlier than that.  It looks like one of the rivers in Maine that we'd slide down the slippery rocks on, and that would mean the summer of '58, when I'd have been almost six.  There are several rivers in Maine flowing over smooth granite like this that are famous for the sliding opportunities.  It wouldn't surprise me if the nanny-staters in liberal Maine had prohibited this by now, or at least require protective gear.  We went down with nothing but our shorts or a bathing suit – had a blast, and at worst suffered a bruise or scrape that we laughed off.  I loved sliding down those rivers, and I was forever pestering my poor dad to take us to one of those places.  Thinking back on those experiences, I'm surprised that they were not crowded with people.  I remember a few people there on occasion, but usually it was just my dad and whatever group of kids he bundled along (that varied a lot, as he often had “borrowed” kids from other families who came up our cabin for the summer).

Friday, September 16, 2016

Our national anthem...

Our national anthem ... a capella, in a bravura performance by five young women who call themselves “The Cactus Cuties”.  Cute, indeed – and talented!

Patriotic a capella...

Patriotic a capella ... via my lovely bride!

Paradise ponders...

Paradise ponders...  We had an eventful day yesterday, so much so that I never posted about the nice walk I had with Mako and Cabo on Wednesday!  The three photos below are from that walk, with nice views of the early fall fields in an ever-changing play of light due to the cloudy skies.  The last photo shows a bluff above the highest point of our walk, with trees in fall color looking like paint dripping off the rocks.  Most of that orange color comes from the ubiquitous scrub oaks all over the lower elevations.

Nearly all of the remaining furniture for Debbie's office was delivered yesterday.  As I write this, it's sitting on pallets in our barn, still completely wrapped.  It will probably be the weekend before I can get to it – there's so much going on the next few days!  This shipment includes a shorter desk that (I hope!) will actually fit into Debbie's office, an office chair for her, and the refinished desktop for the longer desk that will go into my office.  So many projects to work on!  This one involves lots of physical labor for me.  First I have to carry the longer desk into my second floor barn office, all 300 pounds of it (in pieces, of course).  Then I have to disassemble Debbie's 200 pound desk and carry all the pieces from the barn to her upstairs office in the house.  Then I have to reassemble both desks and move all the stuff back onto them.  Yikes!

Then we heard from several contractors.  Promises, promises ... we got lots of promises.  The builder promises to be here “early next week” to frame the mud room.  It will be fascinating to see his interpretation of “early”.  Then the lawn and sprinkler guy, now three weeks late, promised to be here on Monday (and possibly even today).  So far he's promised about five dates and missed them all, so I'm certainly not holding my breath on that one!  Finally, our air conditioning contractor who wants to plumb my diesel and gasoline tanks called with some not-so-good news: he finally found a source for the plastic-coated pipe to run the fuel underground.  Why is that bad news?  Because of the cost: $8.50 a foot (and we need 120 ft), plus about $2.50 a foot for shipping.  Yikes!  We're doing some more research on that one!

Yesterday afternoon made up for all the tribulations of the day, though: we took an absolutely delightful drive around the area just north of Blacksmith Fork River (route at right).  We had Cabo and Mako along with us.  The roads were damp and occasionally muddy, but easily passable – and no dust!  We saw a bit of wildlife: one young bull elk, a few deer (with a couple of yearlings), an osprey (sans fish this time), and an assortment of hawks (one of which Debbie thought might be a golden eagle).  We also saw hundreds of cattle and sheep, which the dogs (especially Cabo) got all excited about.  Most of all, though, we had beautiful scenery. 

Early in the drive we came across this little watering hole with a plant I don't know, and have never seen here before, growing in it.  What caught my eye was that from a distance it looked like a little conifer forest growing in the water!  A similar watering hole 50' away had none of them.  The second photo shows a closeup of the plant in question.

One of my neighbors liked to tease me that we were the only people in Paradise who had never been to Old Ephraim's grave.  Well, our route took us within about a mile of that, so we did a little dido and headed over there.  Old Ephraim was a large grizzly bear that was killing livestock at a prodigious rate, until a local man finally killed him in 1923.  I took a few photos to prove I'd been there :)  Note to my ursaphobic friends: there are no longer any grizzly bears in our area!

The fall color was the highlight of the drive.  The skies were mostly cloudy, but the occasional hole in the clouds would send bright sun rays down onto beautiful patches.  Most of the color was the reds of maples and oranges of scrub oaks (and a few larger oaks).  At the higher altitudes, the yellows and orange-yellows of aspen were just starting.  The next week should really be something!  Enjoy:

It's a beautiful place we live in.  It's really rather amazing to have stuff like this just up the road from our house...